Fancom Communications is in the business of offering consulting services in the areas of infrastructure design to support voice, video, data and electronic security applications such as video surveillance and access control.
We look for opportunities to pursue on various publicly accessible bid sites such as Merx, Biddingo and countless others sponsored by various levels of government and private companies. In most cases, work is publicly funded and as such requires an open bidding process. The evaluation of proposals is often focused on two areas, one technical and one financial. The two-envelope system often used, requires that a submission first meet a minimum technical threshold, and, once surpassed, triggers the opening of the financial envelope, the price to do the work….and this is where the rubber hits the road.
Cash is still king in the world of open bidding for publicly funded work, and so it should be. It’s been said that money talks. Indeed, price is the thing that counts more than any perceived weighting on the technical side of the bidding process. Typically, the weighting for price to technical is something on the order of 75% to 25%. Because of this, whether you earn only 16 of 25 points on the technical side to meet the minimum technical requirements, or whether you “ace” this part of the test with a full 25 points, it matters almost not at all as the price of your proposal counts for 3 times as much as your skills, abilities, past relevant project experience, staff resumes, their accreditations etc, etc.
For a recent opportunity posted on one of the public bid sites mentioned earlier, a project sponsor was requiring some consultancy work from a security specialist. The general scope of work, unbelievably was described in 5 lines of type, using less that 75 words. It may be true that brevity is the soul of wit, but I would humbly suggest that when soliciting for publicly funded work, wittiness should be well down the list of important considerations.
Supporting these 5 meagre lines of text was an additional 13 pages of checklists, enumerating 101 items that the consultant should also consider in arriving at their proposed price. Of these 101 listed items, fully 100 were checked off as relevant to this particular project. Interestingly, this same stretch of 13 pages has been included on at least half a dozen other projects we’ve seen of late from the same sponsor. These boiler plate considerations included with a simple cut and paste function are so general as to serve no useful purpose in defining the work to be done. There’s no doubt a legal requirement to put all this stuff in, but if you’re dealing with a reputable consultancy all these inclusions, and more, would be a part of their ingrained best business practices.
What’s the result of this definition of work to be done, in hopes of soliciting a fees proposal from an adequately qualified consultant to do the work? As is usually the case for publicly funded projects, the requirement for openness and transparency is paramount. Bids results are generally although not always published.
On this occasion, 6 companies chose to submit a proposal including Fancom. Prices ranged from a low of $9,000 to a high of $103,000, a range of more than 11-fold!! Fancom’s bid was in at $36,000. How is this possible? We were all given the same RFP, the same 5 lines and 75 words. How much latitude for interpretation can there possibly be? It turns out, lots, more than 1000% range in this case.
Am I exhibiting some level of sour grapes at not winning this opportunity? Absolutely not. Fancom only wins approximately 16% of the work we bid on a dollar basis, so the concept of losing and rejection is well known to us. It’s an understandable and acceptable, if not completely enjoyable, part of the competitive business landscape in which we compete.
The issue I’m hoping to shed some light on is scope definition as it pertains to the creation of an RFP. The devil is in the details.
Another federal agency recently published an RFP to secure some voice communication services. Their RFP was met with so many questions seeking clarification on requirements that the RFP was almost immediately withdrawn from the marketplace. A revised RFP was subsequently re-issued after a period to fully understand client requirements and articulate those in a new document. The newly issued RFP was a 25-page document with significantly more detail, articulating the what, where, when, how to and how many defining the Client requirements. This creates a level playing field, as presumably respondents will have a common basis for comparing one proposal to the next. Assuming all proposals meet the technical requirements, THEN, and only then, can the customer have confidence that they could choose any supplier and be confident that technical considerations aside, we can choose supplier based on price.
Fancom responds to RFPs seeking consultancy advice and we issue RFPs on behalf of our clients for work they hope to get done in the areas of communications and electronic security infrastructure design.
Common to both scenarios is the need to fully understand client requirements. When responding to RFPs, there’s usually an opportunity to ask questions, seeking clarification on scope. These questions are responded to in the form of an addendum. A recent RFP issued by a city just on the outskirts of the GTA issued such an addendum – 7 pages long and 42 questions deep covering a project that, relatively speaking had a small capital budget on the order of one million dollars. Suffice it to say, the scope was not as well defined as it could have been.
When issuing RFPs on behalf of our clients, the tender documents we produce are intentionally heavy on detail. Included in the tender package are IFC (Issued for construction) CAD drawings that address the where and how many questions for contractors bidding the work…this is how many cameras we want, and here’s where to place them. Also included is a written specification or all intended work that addresses the what and how questions a contractor might have….we want model XXX camera, and we want you to mount it on the exterior of the building using model YYY type of mounting bracket manufactured by Brand ZZZ…and please see they typical drawing showing the drip loop so that your camera housing doesn’t eventually fill with water and ruin the camera.
Drawings – where and how many.
Specifications – what and how.
It’s not completely idiot proof, but it’s close.
Our RFP writing process is detail oriented and comprehensive and will result in less questions, less opportunity for costly change orders down the road.
Change orders and construction management are also important considerations in getting your work done. We’ll take a closer look at both items in our next blog, “Meetings, when is enough, enough?”
Peter Leupen VP/GM (Retired) Fancom Communications Engineering O 905-990-4845
If you’d like more information on Communications and Security Design we would be happy to hear from you. We can be reached at 905-990-4845 or firstname.lastname@example.org.